The art form known as cabaret was born in the Parisian clubs of Montmartre in the 1880s. It was a voice of protest against the ruling classes. The drink of choice was a hallucinogenic liqueur called absinthe—a drink so potent that it was widely banned in the early 20th century. Among the more famous drinkers of absinthe, count America's own poet son, Edgar Allan Poe. For artists like Poe, absinthe was a muse, known colloquially as la fee verte—the green fairy.
Recalling cabaret's origins, Franklin resident Carolan Trbovich has named her new entertainment venture Absinthe: A Broadway Cabaret and while there may not be any old school green fairy to sample (though a milder version of absinthe will be served), there is definitely going to be, if not a green fairy, a green witch – because Trbovich is bringing Broadway star Eden Espinosa (Elphaba in Wicked) to The Factory in Franklin on May 18.
And as any of us who have been transported to Weimar Berlin by the film Cabaret know, it ain't real cabaret without an MC. In this case, singer-songwriter and Liza Minnelli accompanist Johnny Rodgers, who it seems has decided to make his home here in Middle Tennessee, is that MC.
"Absinthe with a chaser of Broadway cabaret will create its own unique musical cocktail that you won't find anywhere else in the Nashville area," Rodgers said of the upcoming event.
For Trbovich, the road to cabaret was, as you might say, a yellow brick one. She was an LA girl with roots in film and a certain attitude about the stage—until she saw the national tour of Wicked at TPAC in 2010. The next thing she knew, she was taking groups of theatre goers all over the country to see _Wicked_. After catching Espinosa in the lead role, Trbovich became a fan. She made a contribution to Espinosa's Kickstarter campaign and won a phone chat with the actress/singer, which started the relationship that has led to this month's partnership.
At the same time Trbovich was developing a new respect for stage actors, she was also discovering NYC's cabaret scene.
Cabaret has mellowed over the past century (though it's always there if we need it for political purposes). Sherry Eaker, who is the former longtime editor of Back Stage, the performing arts trade paper, and also produces NYC's annual Bistro Awards honoring cabaret, jazz and comedy, has this to say about the cabaret art form in its contemporary context: "It's hard to define cabaret. It goes way beyond the definition of a venue where you can eat and drink; neither is it a singer standing in front of a microphone stringing together a bunch of songs. Cabaret is a distinctive and personal art form," she adds. "It's mostly about lyric interpretation and communicating honestly with one's audience. There are no defined limits and boundaries where the performer dare not go. It's risk taking and gutsy."
In the case of an artist like Eden Espinosa, who has established herself by interpreting a signature role in a hit musical, cabaret is a chance for fans to experience the person behind the talent.
Espinosa grew up in an environment of arts and culture. "I was always exposed to a wide spectrum of music and performing arts from musicals and ballet to opera and the symphony,” she said. “I always sang at church or in children's groups; I played piano, violin and was in ballet."
Her Franklin appearance coincides with the release of her first album,Look Around, which is made up of "songs written by some of the best modern Broadway composers, brilliantly arranged as if they were standalone songs that were never in a musical."
This will be Espinosa’s second professional trip to Music City. "I love Nashville," she exclaimed. "I am so looking forward to doing a concert there."
We're looking forward to it, too—no doubt!